Ideas, validation, iteration and a startup is born

This is our story, of a half year journey building our very own rocket ship. Through various struggles, changes and triumphs, we reflect on our path thus far.

Our co-founder Max is the paradigm of a tech lover. He discovered MeteorJS, a new framework that promises to change everything by making it simpler to create applications in shorter time. It was a dream: applications will be real time, allow client side edits and hot packages will be synced automatically.

There was a Facebook Hackathon in early 2014, where Max decided to build a tool using Meteor. The concept was a [visual excel + integration with elements] to people to plan anything from travel to events. It was integrated with Facebook API, and thus we could pull event attendee information, interests, music lists and get an event planned out easily and seamlessly through cell links. It won first place in the hackathon. He showed his creation to a couple of his friends, and that’s when I first got a taste of what we could potentially build here.

The team comes together

Max and I have worked together several projects before; back in 2012, when I was running an e-commerce platform for art, Max came to my rescue to get the platform ready for launch (when my own team fell apart). Thereafter, I returned the favor by helping Max on due diligence on a health and wellness business idea that he had. These were early experiences of failures, but when I saw the project that Max had created, I just knew that it was time for us to start something together again.

I worked with Max to put together an investment proposal to 1) validate the idea and 2) to execute the idea. QuestVC saw the potential in our team and believed we could lead this forward. Initially, we tried leveraging on both to build a very complicated visual experience. It was a 3D iteration, followed a node structure and could spin around in space. While it sounded like a good idea at the time, it was poor in actual usability.

Having scraped by the investment committee and secured funding, we had some money to start building the product full time. We did tons of dogfooding and at this point — and found a new team member to complement the team skills. Carylyne joined the team from her background in marketing and product development. She worked with Max heavily on the product, and we developed a new direction for GraphPaper.

Struggles with user feedback

At this point, GraphPaper is a productivity tool to help users power level their lives. This was conceived after we went to 3 hackathons, had a power brainstorming session, before finally nailing the line. This was encapsulating of the core idea of being super useful to the users. In order to capture the concept of an assistant, GraphPaper briefly changed its name to Watari (named after the butler of L in DeathNote). However, in explaining the name to people and in a few weeks, user feedback showed that it did not make sense at that point in time.

In September, we focused strongly on product-market fit. User tests basically showed us the extent of frustration that users have using the product. Many of them wanted to give up using it after a few tries. Working on the feedback, we worked tirelessly to create a better experience. Within a month, we had made significant progress in implementing various web services. They tried but were unsuccessful in applying to any accelerator they tried for: 500 Startups, Techstars. They had a frustrating product, a half formed idea and no numbers.

After these experiences, we realigned our priorities, and focused on user flows and stepped up on dogfooding. At this point in time, we were selected as an Alpha startup for Web Summit in Dublin. We were stressed: We just weren’t sure what we could show during the Summit. More user tests were run, showing that there were enough improvements that users were even comfortable enough to give a testimonial of their own personal use cases on GraphPaper.

The entire buildup to the Web Summit was a frantic and fun time. We had to get everything from name cards, logos to assets done up. Carylyne brought on Jalyn to join the team as a creative lead to handle brand and product design direction and execution. Jalyn, who has a plethora of experience in design of products/websites, helped to conceptualize the design of the website and other assets. A week before they flew to Dublin, the team had a huddle and decided that the product will be pitched as follows: a Swiss army knife for using web elements that you love.

Validating the market

GraphPaper team shared their vision with the world for the first time at the Web Summit, exhibiting on day 2 at the Big Data area in the conference. There were a total of 22000 people at the event (and our team got hooked on the Irish Keogh’s potato crisps, which they served daily at the food summit, for the entire duration and forever thereafter). Eventually, we had 220 great leads from the Summit (~1% of the people at the conference). We were happy that we got range of feedback, from enthusiasm to outright disinterest. Clearly, our value proposition and communications were not addressing the questions and needs of attendees yet. However, many who were excited were keen to give it a shot and try us out. Our team, which was (and currently still is) in early alpha, promised to send them invites very soon.

Coming back to Singapore, Carylyne and I started inviting the very first users on board. The process was tough, and users had no idea what was going on until they watched the videos. It became even more painfully clear that we needed to focus on finding a real market fit for the product. Our team spend 2 weeks dogfooding the product, going out to speak to users, asking people questions about their workflow and speaking to people we met at the summit, including a mentor, George Greenlee. We developed more user education assets, conceptualized onboarding flows, and got down to designing templates (an oft-requested feature).

After the Web Summit, I also used GraphPaper to plan an article to be written as a feature post for VulcanPost, which Carylyne wrote and published for our first mention on online media. During talks and meetings with people, I will use GraphPaper to take down learnings/notes and share the appropriate spaces with the community. Our team and users also built community spaces around poker, cats, design, and even Taylor Swift.

A huge part of existing usage of GraphPaper is around ideas. When people see GraphPaper’s user interface and tell us their problems, they think of ideas. Students, teachers, poker players, entrepreneurs and everyone have great ideas they want to take note of. The team realised the huge importance of inspirations in shaping our daily lives and ideation process. These inspirations, when taken from all over, can be synthesized into a plan and shared with communities.

For some time, we debated over the idea of GraphPaper being “the home for your ideas”; however, the team could not all agree on the direction. Going back to the drawing board, however, we realised that the education market was where we had garnered the most interest — Potential education service partners and teachers were extremely eager to use GraphPaper as part of their monitoring and engagement process with students.

The way forward

Reflecting on our own recent experiences with school and projects, we decided to create the best overall solution for students to get their projects done. We’re not deviating too much from our core proposition from long ago; we still want to empower users to achieve more in less time and effort, with the help of GraphPaper. In analyzing the user journey and problems, we realized we could craft the right solution for students to manage the entire project lifecycle — from the ideation stages of a project initiation to the actual completion and submission of works.

With this new focus in sight, we will work tirelessly to build GraphPaper for our first targeted market.

I wonder where this may take us next? ☺

Ideas, validation, iteration and a startup is born

Recommend to a friend

Next on your reading list